Pigskin Pursuit

An eight year odyssey across the backroads of America during the ultimate College Football roadtrip.

Tag: Dallas (page 1 of 2)

Notre Dame vs Arizona State: Irish shock the Sun Devils in Dallas…

Having lived in Dallas for several years and attending a handful of games at the soaring monstrosity of new Cowboy Stadium, the trip to the Big D was more about catching up with friends than exploring a new corner of the college football world.  With Notre Dame playing Arizona State in one of their annual “Shamrock Series” neutral site contests, a special event that grants leeway for the crack design team at Adidas to make some deplorable changes to the traditional Fighting Irish uniforms, this trip was a great opportunity to reconnect with a few of my Irish cohorts that were also making the journey into town.  But with #22 Arizona State fresh off a blowout victory over the USC Trojans, this game would be anything but a walk in the park for the decidedly pedestrian Irish squad thus far this year.   Of course the allure of some proper Texas barbecue would offset any anxieties that I shared about the tenuous Irish matchup…(See my review of Pecan Lodge from last year here)

Saturday morning we rise early and load up Bryce’s truck with a payload of tailgating provisions.  Coolers are stuffed to the gills with refreshment, and shopping bags ripple with snacks.  We rendezvous with a handful of friends in the parking lot of a Bone Daddy’s restaurant in Grapevine, a Hooters restaurant clone known for their, ahem, “alluring” fare.  From there we convoy south into Arlington with surprising ease, and then enter the asphalt expanse surrounding the new Cowboy Stadium.  We have a hangtag parking pass for Lot 12, a privilege that Jerry Jones charges $50 apiece for.  Judging by the wide open swaths of parking that never fill up, the contest will be far from a sellout.

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As our tailgate is unfurled in the cool overcast morning air, our numbers swell as visitors stop by and meet up.  Bryce sets up a slick Beats By Dre portable radio with some Texas Country pumping, while Kate lays out an impressive spread on a foldout table. I take this opportunity to crack into my first Shiner of the day.  My friends Larry and Luke had followed us in and parked alongside.  Both friends from my Notre Dame years, they were in town for a doubleheader of the Irish contest on Saturday, and then an NFL Cowboys game the next day.   Seasoned tailgating veterans in South Bend, they were both familiar with my tailgating antics, and we spend the morning working our way through an impressive list of microbrews that Bryce toted along.  As always, a few hours tailgating with great friends flies by like seconds, and as the sun starts to dip into the horizon, it signals the end of our festivities.  We stuff our pockets with a few walking beers and head towards the giant alien spacecraft that is Jerryworld.

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Walking towards the stadium, tickets are for sale everywhere.  People stand on corners with fistfuls of them in hand, asking as low as $5 apiece for the tickets which the university had the gall to put a $110 face value price tag on.  There simply isn’t enough demand for what amounts to a neutral site game between two lackluster teams that are each nearly 1,000 miles from their respective campuses.  Security procedures as we enter the giant dome include a metal detector and possible pat down.  If it’s one thing I always appreciate – it’s invasive, superfluous and ineffective security procedures that cause a choke point to enter the stadium and offer little more than an illusion of safety.  Fortunately, the “security” goons aren’t wise enough for my ruse, and I breeze through with a full can of Shiner Bock cleverly concealed by years of experience (send me an email if you want the technique)…

For those that haven’t been, Cowboy Stadium (recently redubbed “AT&T Stadium”, which I will ignore) is an impressive space, a befitting monument to football in the Lonestar State.  It’s sparkling new and clean, has generously wide concourses that are easy to navigate and a plethora of concessions that sport everything from nachos to sushi.  The retractable roof soars nearly 300 feet over the field, supported by a pair of massive 35’ deep box trusses that span the entire 1200’ length of the stadium.  The gaudy centerpiece of the structure is the infamous Mitsubishi Jumbotron, a 160’ high definition TV screen that continuously flashes replays and advertisements, the largest of its kind in the world.  Stretching from one 25 yard line to the other, the epilepsy inducing behemoth is so obtrusive, that you find yourself accidentally watching the game on the screen instead of the actual action on the field.

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While it’s impossible not to be impressed by the sheer size and spectacle of the structure, and it’s a fine venue for the climate controlled, banal professionalism of the NFL; I find Jerryworld completely unfit for a college football game.  College football is quite simply meant to be played outdoors, under the elements, in the splendor of a fervent college campus bursting with foliage on a crisp fall afternoon.

But despite my purist protestations, beer flows freely at the concession stands, and Larry, Luke and I intend to take advantage of this break from typical NCAA Puritanism.  Given the frustrating play of the Irish thus far this season, we’ll clearly need it, and we alternate a few rounds while the countdown clock winds down.  Although billed as a neutral site contest, looking around the audience is anything but an even split.  The Irish fan base probably outnumbers the Sun Devils 3:1, and the massive jumbotron plays exclusively Irish promotional videos and messages.  After a few pre game announcements, the contest kicks off with as much roar as the 2/3 capacity crowd can muster as helmets begin popping on the artificial turf below.

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After a scoreless first quarter, what follows is a surprisingly competitive, seesaw battle that delivers for all four quarters.  Irish running back and Texas native Cam McDaniel batters the ASU defense on the ground, while QB Tommy Rees has a serviceable day in the air with three touchdowns against one (albeit costly) interception.  After trading a few quick touchdowns in the second quarter, the score at halftime is 14-13 in favor of the Irish.

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In the third frame, as Rees finds some rhythm, the Irish jump out to a comfortable 24-13 lead after successful touchdown drive and impressive 53 yard field goal boot by place kicker Kyle Brindza.  But the explosive Sun Devil squad will not be pinned down in the 4th quarter, as they return a Tommy Rees gaffe for a six point interception, and later punch in a touchdown with eight minutes remaining to knot the score at 27.  After an ensuing Irish field goal drive (30-27), the key play of the game occurs as Arizona State assumes the ball deep in their own territory with 1:16 remaining.  Skilled ASU QB Taylor Kelly, facing a 4th and 13 conversion to keep his teams hopes alive, fires an interception into the outstretched arms of ND linebacker Dan Fox.  Fox returns the interception for a touchdown, effectively icing the game as the Irish assume a 37-27 lead with only a minute remaining.  Final score ND 37 ASU 34.

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Special thanks to my friends Bryce and Kate for their incredible Texas hospitality as always, and can’t wait to see what games we meet up for next year!

Thanks to my friends Larry and Luke, it was awesome to catch up with you guys in Dallas, and lets lock down ASU in Arizona next year!!!

 

Full clickable gallery below:

 

 

 

 

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Pecan Lodge – Finding Real BBQ in Dallas…

Staying in Fort Worth for the epic Notre Dame vs Oklahoma tilt, I needed my routine fix of proper Texas barbecue.  Traditionally this entailed an exhausting three hour (one way) jaunt down to Austin, such are the levels of my depravity.  Since bursting onto the Dallas BBQ scene three years ago, however, Pecan Lodge has been dishing out epic smoked meats that rival anything Central Texas has to offer.  Initially bestowed with an elusive 5 star rating on Full Custom Gospel BBQ, the frenzy around the tiny storefront in the Dallas Farmers Market exploded following a visit from Guy Fieri on the Food Network hit Diners Drive-Ins and Dives. Waiting times for a few morsels of their BBQ have swelled proportionally. Stretching up to 2 hours during peak times, my father, friend Bryce and I brave the lines for a Friday afternoon lunch with eager appetites.

After exchanging a few tweets, the man himself, the BBQ Snob of Full Custom Gospel BBQ fame, agrees to join us for lunch, greeting our crew at one of the rickety metal tables.  I had lured him from his brisket fortress of solitude with the promise of a massive Pecan Lodge beef rib, and irresistible offering for anyone, much less a BBQ fanatic.  The ruse works, he surveys our formidable tray discerningly, an epic offering of brisket, pork ribs, sausage, and beef ribs.  An eyebrow noticeably rises above his rimless glasses, a most subtle gesture of praise.  He approves of the hefty meat pile, and settles into a chair.

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Though he refers to himself as the BBQ “Snob”, in person Daniel is anything but.  The conversation is amicable, and despite the notoriety that he has garnered over the past couple of years while personally surveying over 500 different BBQ joints, he remains notably humble and approachable. From even a few minutes of conversation, it’s clear he is far more than a critic.  BBQ is his passion.  He lives it.  To boot, his knowledge on the subject matter is remarkable.  Beyond chatting about a few of our favorite joints, he drops terms like “phenols” and “nitrogen dioxide”, expounding on the science of great barbecue down to the molecular level.  He even offers a few tips for the group, as we discuss the particulars of our amateur BBQ attempts on Big Green Egg smokers.    I learn more about barbecue in fifteen minutes with Daniel, than most people would in a year.  It even turns out he’ll be attending the same Oklahoma vs Notre Dame fiasco tomorrow too, though the table collectively grumbles when it’s revealed he’ll be garbed in crimson and cream.

As his belt busting tales of Texas BBQ road trips can attest, the man can eat.  Like an epic clash of titans we exchange blows, each of us grabbing fistfuls of smoked goodness, waiting for the other to show even the slightest flinch of appetite.  Neither does.  After fifteen minutes our pristine tray of red ribboned beef is ransacked. Picked over like a pack of wild hyenas, the flimsy plastic tray itself is lucky to survive unscathed, and sits disheveled, heaped with stacks of bones and greasy butcher paper. It’s complete carnage.

If you’re wondering, the food at Pecan Lodge is, quite simply, remarkable.

I’ll spare the hyperbole.  This is best BBQ in Dallas.  Period.  And second place isn’t even close.  It rivals anything to be found in Central Texas.

The brisket is silky, pull apart tender, enveloped in a jet black bark and laced with robust notes of mesquite smoke.

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*Smoking over mesquite is one area Pecan Lodge differentiates itself, as most traditional Texas BBQ joints espouse post oak

**On even more elusive days, Pecan Lodge features smoked Waygu (American Kobe) beef brisket, which, although expensive at $25lb, might be the single greatest thing you could ever put in your mouth.

Beef ribs are massive, quivering mountains of velvet beef.  Perfectly broken down until tender, a thick red smoke ring belies their time and attention in the smoker.  While these aren’t an everyday item from what I understand, if they have them – buy them.

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A bright red sausage features a coarse grind with a good snap and peppery building heat.  Perfectly smoked to juicy perfection, it’s also house made, a refreshing departure from the Sysco crap that pervades so many menus.

The pork ribs, well smoked and lightly sauce glazed, are probably the fourth best thing on the menu.  Which is saying something, because they would be the best thing on the menu anywhere else in the DFW Metroplex.

Even the sides here are good, not that anyone should care.  But still, the attention to detail is nice.

If you find yourself in the DFW Metroplex in the near future, your lunch time decision just became an easy one: Pecan Lodge.  The food is second to none, and you might just get to break brisket with a BBQ legend…or snob….

www.pecanlodge.com

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Armed Forces Bowl: Army vs SMU

The Armed Forces Bowl, or more appropriately the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl, is another of the newer bowls created in college football with its first kickoff dating back to 2003. Originally called the Fort Worth Bowl, the game is traditionally played at Amon Carter Stadium in Cowtown, home of the fearsome and undefeated TCU Horned Frogs. While Amon Carter undergoes a 105 Million dollar facelift, the game is being hosted at Ford Stadium in Dallas for the next two seasons. Given a bowl game five minutes up the road, it made for a convenient post season opportunity to continue the Pigskin Pursuit. Joining me on the day would be two DFW friends and former West Point cadets Bryce and Geoff. I donned my darkest black polo and we skipped up to the SMU campus to check out the morning tailgate action before an 11AM kickoff.

Ford Stadium is a pleasant little horseshoe shaped stadium occupying the southern edge of the pristine SMU (Southern Methodist) campus. With a stated capacity of only 32,000 it’s hardly larger than some of the behemoth high school venues in the state, though Ford is easily approachable and conveniently located five minutes from downtown Dallas. Unlike the new Jerry Jones spaceship in Arlington, free neighborhood parking abounds in the mansion lined side streets of Highland Park, and I tucked the Jetta easily into an empty street on an early Thursday morning. Highland Park, for those of you unfamiliar with Dallas, is one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the country with a per capita income of nearly $100,000.

After parking, Bryce, Geoff and I hoofed it over to the “Boulevard” tailgating area to meet up with some of their West Point cohorts hosting a tailgate. In addition to the glut of military acronyms I would learn on the day, this proved to be a well appointed and welcoming setup. Their friend Kipper had secured prime real estate on the Boulevard, which is an exquisitely manicured stretch of grass shaded by stretching post oaks in the center of the SMU campus. Kipper was no stranger to a smoker, evidenced by the dual pit trailer he towed behind his pickup and gentle smoke enticingly wafting into the damp morning air. The mouth watering menu included chicken thighs, country style pork ribs, stuffed jalapenos (my tongue would only allow for one) and pulled pork sandwiches. All of the meats were expertly prepared and testimony to Kippers prowess as a skilled tailgater.

Walking into the stadium, I was surprised at the sheer number of West Point alums in the crowd. For a school that typically only graduates roughly 1000 students per year, black and gold flooded the bleachers, and weighty USMA class rings flashed in our section, reflecting sporadic streams of sun (The USMA started the practice of university class rings in 1835). Walking through the concourse with Bryce and Geoff was akin a West Point class reunion, as familiar faces swarmed the aisles, testament to the solidarity that exists among former cadets.

On the field for the day the Black Knights of Army were facing off against the Mustangs of SMU, though the home field advantage for the Ponies was mitigated by this strong turnout of Army supporters. The excitement for the Knights started quickly, as 1:30 seconds into the contest they jarred the ball loose from SMU Quarterback Kyle Padron, and ran the recovery back for a 55 yard touchdown. The excitement would continue for Army in the first quarter, as the cadets later marched 80 yards down the field on another touchdown drive. Adding on a second quarter field goal would put the USMA up 16-0 at halftime, amidst a stunned SMU squad. The second half was all about Army desperately clinging onto a lead, fending off the gun slinging June Jones offense and trying to run out the clock. After a tense missed 47 yard field goal by SMU late in the fourth quarter, a kick which would have given them the lead, the entire East side of the stadium let out a collective gasp of relief. After a few clock killing first downs, Army had secured their victory despite not scoring in the entire second half, and held on for a dramatic 16-14 victory.

While it hardly garnered a mention on SportsCenter, this marked the first bowl win for Army in 25 years, their last coming in the Peach Bowl in 1985. This was truly a remarkable win for a program that has seen only a handful of post season games the last few decades. People are quick to forget that Army used to be the national powerhouse in football. Though they will never return to their former pedestal, the pride and heritage found in USMA football is still roaring amongst their distinguished alumni. I was particularly proud to have experienced it with Bryce and Geoff, both class of 1999.

Be on the lookout for a potential trip to West Point for the Pigskin Pursuit next year….

Thanks again to Kipper for hosting such a phenomenal tailgate, it was certainly some of the best food I’ve had all year.


Special thanks to Bryce and Geoff for letting me tag along, and witness Army victory!

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SMU: Mustangs vs. Horned Frogs

As hard as it is to believe, I’ve lived in Dallas for well over three years now and never made it to an SMU Football game. Despite living within a few miles of the stadium, the Mustangs were never too high on my list of teams to visit. While the program has improved considerably in recent years under the leadership of gunslinger head coach June Jones, I still wasn’t ready to dedicate an entire College Football Saturday to see a game there. Fortunately, SMU had a fantastic Friday night matchup on their schedule as the Horned Frogs of TCU were making the trek over from Fort Worth. Spending a Friday evening under the lights of Ford Stadium sounded like the perfect opportunity to check out my first game there.



SMU, or Southern Methodist University, for the uninformed, has a markedly different feel than all the other Texas schools we have been to. The atmosphere at SMU is largely a function of the demographic that comprises the school. SMU is a rather expensive, elite private university, with a campus that abuts the “Highland Park” section of Dallas – one of the most affluent neighborhoods in the State. Expectedly, the school has a decidedly “preppy” student body and I saw enough Khakis and loafers running around to fill out a young Republican convention. I wasn’t sure if this was tailgating or a Gap ad with a bunch of David Spade clones.



To SMU’s credit, however, the “Boulevard” is a breathtaking tailgating spot, as tents and grills line a shaded promenade of towering Post Oaks.

The game itself was actually quite competitive through the first half. While I expected TCU to come in and dominate en route to another unbeaten BCS run, the Mustangs actually put up quite a fight. Athletically, they matched up surprisingly well with the Horned Frogs, and broke a couple of impressive big plays. The Mustangs even took a quick lead coming out of halftime with a key interception. Unfortunately, that lead and the SMU celebration was short lived, as the Horned frogs returned the ensuing kickoff for 83 yards, and scored a few plays later. TCU never looked back from there, and kept their unblemished record in tact with a 41-24 win.

Regardless of the outcome, it’s easy to see the SMU program is one on the rise. There is some talent on the field, and their offense is clearly capable with June Jones. Unfortunately, their execution was sporadic on this night and it cost them. However, if they can nail down some of those executional hiccups, the Mustangs will be a formidable opponent in the future.



Ford Stadium was a pleasant venue, and we scooped up a couple of endzone lawn seats on the cheap from the stadium box office. Given the proximity of TCU, the stadium was jam packed for the evening as 35,481 fans filled the stands – a record crowd at Ford.



Special thanks to our friends Jenny, Jonathan and Heath for joining us for a perfect Friday Night of Football!

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